The World Health Organization has classified iron deficiency as the most common nutritional disorder in the world. Research suggests that an estimated 80% of people on Earth don’t have enough iron, leading 30% of Earth’s population to iron deficient anemia.
If you are iron deficient, and it sounds like most of us are, here’s what to do next.
Iron is crucial for one reason in particular: your red blood cells. Iron assists the enzymes responsible for increasing your red blood cell count, growing your blood vessels, production of anaerobic energy, and forming hemoglobin and myoglobin which assist with the transport and storage of oxygen. In a nutshell, your red blood cells won’t carry oxygen without iron.
From an energy production standpoint, iron is needed to form the cytochromes used to produce energy. Iron is also needed to metabolize drugs, and is an essential piece of countless other proteins and enzymes.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS OF TOXICITY/DEFICIENCY
If you are getting too much iron, your immediate symptoms will be obvious. Nausea, vomiting, and shock will hopefully tip you off. If you fail to act, these symptoms could result in your untimely demise.
More long term issues include a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and some neurodegenerative diseases.
Don’t worry, as the WHO said, the overwhelming majority of people aren’t getting enough. Chances are you’re not getting toxic levels and if you were, you’d know something was wrong.
Here’s where 80% of humanity is - deficiency.
Deficiency can seem hard to notice. Most folks experience a specific form of anemia where their red blood cells get small and pale over time. Sport anemia is common for athletes that don’t practice good nutrition. Women tend to suffer anemia more than men do.
Another tell tale sign of iron deficiency is finger and toenails that are spoon shaped and curl upwards. If that doesn’t tip you off, I don’t know what will.
In children, iron deficiency can present as behavioral abnormalities.
WHERE TO GET IT AND HOW MUCH
Now that we’re all good and scared of chronic iron deficiency, here’s where you can relax a bit.
Iron is relatively easy to get from your diet. There are two kinds of dietary iron: heme iron and non-heme iron.
Heme iron is more easily absorbed and can be found in red meat, and darker meat species of poultry and fish.
Non-heme iron is readily available in dairy and plant sources. Soy beans, navy beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, dark leafy green veggies, potatoes, and cashews all have iron.
Iron absorption can be enhanced with vitamin C, organic acids, and meats. Iron absorption can also be inhibited by phytates (phytic acid is in every plant in varying amounts) and soy protein. Most of these changes in absorption are extremely minimal. Don’t stop eating plants for fear of absorbing less iron.
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for men and women over 50 is 8.7g per day. For women ages 18-50, the RDA is 14.8g per day. Women with heavier periods may need more iron than the RDA.
If you struggle to get enough iron from your food, an iron supplement will help while adjusting your nutrition plan.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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On the next Food for Thought we will explore another common point of deficiency: Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
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